WITH FRIENDS LIKE THIS . . .
Part Five of a six-part series on 'Progressive Internationalism'
Nobody to the left of George W. Bush regarding the war in Iraq could be comforted by the appearance of former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer last night. Speaking on behalf of John Kerry, Holbrooke was completely unable to differentiate Kerry from Bush on future Iraq policy, replayed the tactical critique of Bush in lieu of a principled critique of Mr. Bush's War (characteristic of Progressive Internationalism), and suggested an even tougher line on Iraq than the Bush administration has yet voiced, especially vis-a-vis the United Nations. Nothing out of Holbrooke's mouth put even a single worry of the General's to rest.
The interview started poorly for Holbrooke. Although coming off as much more statesmanlike and intelligent than Kenneth Adelman (there to represent the Bush camp), Holbrooke used time in his opening statement to directly undermine the very institution that Kerry is claiming a unique capacity to work with to solve problems in Iraq: the United Nations.
How in God's name could the United States be prepared to turn over sovereignty without knowing who to a group that will be determined by Lakhdar Brahimi, a U.N. official, an Algerian Sunni Muslim [ed. - emphasis added], a very good guy in many ways. He's smart. I worked with him. But we don't know what he's going to come up with or when he's going to come up with it or whether it serves America's national interests.Holbrooke made this insinuation not once but twice during the interview ("a U.N. official, a Muslim, Sunni, Algerian" -- why not mention his receding hairline and goofy tinted glasses, too?). Good Lord, Jesse Helms or Pat Buchanan could have said the same thing!
This administration, which has undermined, demeaned, and under funded the U.N. for three years has now turned its fate and destiny in Iraq over to the U.N. while leaving 135,000 American men and women at risk.
When Holbrooke was asked what the differences would be between Bush and Kerry for future Iraq policy, Holbrooke completely flubbed it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So you both disagree. What are the differences on where to go from here?When pressed for a substantive answer, all Holbrooke could offer was a criticism of Bush administration incompetence combined with  agreement with Bush on the principles of the war ("Now, on Iraq itself, Saddam Hussein was an extreme tyrant. Getting rid of him was a correct objective. Sen. Kerry supported the resolution in September of 2002, as did I, that authorized the president to take action against him."); and  praise for Kerry's big brain, big skills as a diplomat and big heroism in Vietnam ("Let me just say one other thing, Ken, he is a very experienced diplomat and a professional and an international expert, as well as his famous Vietnam service.")
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: First of all, the president has not yet gotten to the point where Sen. Kerry has been for over a year. Secondly, the president's movement in the direction that Sen. Kerry and many other leading Democrats and many Republicans have advocated, ought to indicate to your viewers which of the two men has the better prospect of bringing America its national security objectives in Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: Are there specific policy differences that you see between Sen. Kerry's approach and the president's approach at this moment?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Anyone who knows the two men, their background and what they've said, knows that they would have pursued Iraq differently and the challenge...
KENNETH ADELMAN: Let me answer your question. If Richard is not going to answer your question, I'll answer it.
In short, Holbrooke defended Kerry with one line: "Trust him."
Kerry's "alternative plan" amounts to
He has never stopped talking about the need to bring in an international cover for our presence through the U.N., of bringing in more forces, of building the kind of diplomatic coalitions which would have worked.But as Adelman accurately points out,
KENNETH ADELMAN: That's the advantage of being an outsider and not an incumbent. You can promise everything. Are they really talking about the French, are they really talking about the French and the Russians are going to go along?A foundational and repeated assumption of Kerry and the whole crew around "progressive internationalism" is that the world would have cooperated with the US in overthrowing Saddam if only the administration would have been nicer about it all. Liberal hawks are either unwilling or unable to admit that the fundamental interests of the French, Germans, Russians and others were opposed to those of the US in this situation. It is an important intentional ignorance, however, for it allows them to fight Bush on tactical grounds while completely agreeing with him on principled and even strategic grounds.
Listen, Margaret, the French and Russians wanted to keep Saddam Hussein in power. They wanted to do the opposite that Richard Holbrooke says he wanted to do, which was get rid of Saddam Hussein. They're not going to come along and cooperate.
Note that Kerry wants to do more, not less, in Iraq: more troops, more money, more of the political agenda consumed by Iraq.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: . . . contrary to what Ken just said, there is no chance at all that Sen. Kerry would follow the advocacy of anyone who wants to cut and run. He is a strong national security Democrat from his three purple hearts, his silver star and his bronze star in Vietnam, all the way through to his principled stands on many foreign policy issues, including, I want to stress, his strong support for the Clinton administration in overthrowing Milosevic and cleaning up Bosnia and Kosovo."Cut and run" -- i.e. even thinking about an exit strategy -- is anathema to Kerry. Even the United Nations cannot be trusted thanks to that Sunni Muslim Algerian guy. Liberal hawks talk a lot about cooperation, but cooperation is not a fundamental value; US "national security interests" are. How is this any different from what Bush has already done or proposed doing?
Somehow Kerry is going to work his magic with the Europeans and the UN starting in January 2005, we are told, because the dispute between the US and the rest of the world is quite frankly one big misunderstanding caused by a crazed zealot in the White House; it has nothing at all to do with state interests or American empire. If you believe this, I suggest you sign up for the National Guard ASAP and trust Kerry to do the right thing.
PART FOUR: The Land of the Free Traders
PART THREE: Mo' Better Blues
PART TWO: Building a Better Bush
PART ONE: Kerry is So Very . .